Holy brake pedal, your kid’s getting a license. Here’s what’s changed since you got yours.

By Catherine Hong

Your son forgot to set his alarm for the morning of the PSAT. How is he going to remember to check his blind spots? Your daughter spends most of  her waking hours texting, liking and scrolling. How’s she going to drive 20 minutes—no, make that two seconds—without looking at her phone? Handing over the car keys to your sometimes spacey, impulsive kid may feel like the biggest leap of faith you’ve had to take yet. But for teens, learning to drive—and drive safely—is an important step toward independence. After all, they’re going to have to learn sometime. So let’s get up to speed on how driving is taught in 2019.

Learning to Drive When School’s Out

Chances are you learned to drive by taking driver’s ed in high school. (Raise your hand if it was the gym teacher’s side hustle!) But “over the past two decades, most school programs have gone by the wayside,” says Brett Robinson, executive director of   The American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association. Now you’ll likely find that your kid needs to learn outside of school, and that you’ll be paying for it to the tune of $350 to $600, though some states offer subsidies.

Driving Laws Are More Strict at Night

Back in the day, once you got your license, you were free to drive with full adult privileges. Today all states have adopted some form of Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL), which phases in new drivers, granting them more privileges over time. Laws vary significantly from state to state, but they can restrict teens from, say, driving past 10 p.m., carrying passengers under the age of 18, driving more than one passenger or driving anyone outside their immediate family. “Strong nighttime driving restrictions and strict limits on the number of  teen passengers a teen driver can carry are known to be effective in reducing crashes,” says Russ Rader of   the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.  

The Wheel Deal

Generations of drivers were taught to place their hands on the steering wheel at ten o’clock and two o’clock. Now instructors tell kids to hold the wheel with their hands at nine and three—or even lower down, at eight and four. “It’s because of the airbags,” says Cathrine Collins, a driving instructor in Portland, OR. “They deploy with such force that they can shoot your hands into your face or even break your thumbs.” There’s a new way instructors teach steering too. “We teach what’s called the pull-push technique,” Collins says. Like the new grip, this method—where one hand slides on the wheel as the other pulls down—helps avoid airbag injury.   “It also gives you more control,” she explains. So don’t automatically correct your kids—you might want to copy them. 

Drunk Driving Isn't the Only Type of Impaired Driving

Remember MADD bumper stickers in the ’80s? When we were kids, messaging from adults centered on drunk driving. Now the other major “don’t” for teens is distracted driving—notably, text-ing at the wheel. “Kids these days know drunk driving is stupid,” says Steve Mochel, co-founder of Connecticut-based driving school Fresh Green Light. “The problem is they don’t think it’s a big deal to be on their phones.” This is where parents can do a better job setting an example, he adds. “If your kid sees you constantly checking your phone, they think they can too.” There are apps that can block texts and the like while a car is in motion; iPhones running iOS 11 or later have a “Do Not Disturb While Driving” mode parents can turn on (and keep on, using a password).

Today's Cars Are Safer

“Overall, cars are safer than they were 30 years ago,” says James Graham, who runs the Driving Skills for Life program at Ford. Increasingly, new cars come equipped with blind spot monitors, lane departure warnings, advance collision warning systems and other sophisticated features. Several manufacturers offer some that are aimed at teens: Ford’s My Key system lets parents customize a car’s settings based on a dedicated teen key (which can be used to set a speed limit, for instance); Chevrolet’s Teen Driver Technology tracks your kid and can deliver an elec-tronic report card detailing their road activity. Chevy also recently introduced a Buckle to Drive feature, which prevents your kid from shifting out of park unless their seat belt is on. So while it’s tempting to give your kid an old banged-up vehicle, it might be wiser to let them drive the safest (and maybe newest) car you can.